Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fascist Fantasy Land; Why Conspiracy Theorism Doesn't Work

I first saw the above elaborate schemata on PZ Myers' blog -  see here. According to Myers it's the world view of a website called MAGAPILL. But given that we are dealing with the internet here, one must approach this bizarre material bearing in mind Poe's law. In what follows, however, I am proceeding under the assumption that we here a genuinely held world view.....

The diagram above merges many observable aspects of our social world into one grand slam conspiracy theory. This comprehensive theory interprets ostensible features of Western society as the superficial and misleading manifestation of an underlying matrix like reality; in fact "The Matrix" (as in sci-fi film) is exactly what they liken it to. The creators of the schemata probably see themselves as the heroes of the story, heroes who have discovered the "matrix" and have broken the code of its sham facade. It's no surprise that we are dealing with Trump supporters here. Trump is a man with a tenuous connection with reality but who explains away any consequent intellectual dissonance using his talent for apportioning blame and his belief to be a victim of an institutionalized facade of disinformation and "fake news"; this is prototypical conspiracy theory. Trump, apparently, was pleased that MAGAPILL praised him for his accomplishments.

If you look at the above picture you can read about false flag terrorism, earthquake machines, classification of patents threatening the industrial status quo, displacement of helpful natural compounds with harmful controlling synthetics, weakening the nutritional value of crops with GM, weaponizing vaccinations and viruses, and a whole lot more. All in all it's very Alex Jones-esque!. However, I haven't found any mention of flat earthism, contrails, and the moon landing hoax! But they could be in there somewhere! Also, I can't see anything like David Ike's lizard conspiracy. That may be because mainstream conspiracy theorists don't believe David Ike to be a random crackpot but instead a false flag conspiracy theorist working for the Illuminati and out to discredit conspiracy theorism! For the hardened conspiracy theorist big events which turn on random causes or the work of a lone crackpot don't figure strongly in their world view. For the addicted conspiracy theorist big events are not meaningless but must fit into a comprehensive and covert background of malign grand purposes.

The above picture portrays a world which is in the controlling hands of criminal secret societies, some of whom have an official front. Life, they tell us, isn't what it seems: Rather it's a much more exciting affair of heroes against cloak and dagger Machiavellians. These clever and brave heroes have unraveled the secret code of reality and blown away its covers. Like Neo in The Matrix and Donald Trump they are in a battle of good vs. (hidden) evil.  On the other hand is it as PZ Myers says "a warped and dangerously demented perception of reality"? I know what I think! A mixture of suspicion, self aggrandizement and a sense of having solved a riddle thus giving meaning to life are at the heart of the motivations for conspiracy theorism. 


One way to discredit a movement is to draw parallels with the fascists and Nazis and that is exactly what I'm going to do here.  In fact it's not a stretch of the imagination to find commonality between the people who fall for grand conspiracy theorism and the Nazis of prewar Germany; after all, the Nazis bought into paranoid fantasies which they believed to be the underlying social reality; namely, that rich Jewish financiers were pulling the strings of Western societies, causing poverty and wars. More generally the Jews were likened to an infestation of over breeding rats. The Nazis also promoted historical fantasies regarding the superior origins of the Aryan race and some, such as Himmler, mixed these ideas with fanciful occult mysticism*.  The emotional need which help maintain these fictions was found in racial pride and social paranoia. So, the parallel I'm drawing here between Nazi philosophy and modern grand conspiracy theorism is that they both see the world through a delusional filter egged on by a combination of ego, narcissism, fear and insecurity. The Nazis also provide a lesson in what a real controlled society actually looks like; it looks nothing like the covertly controlled society of the conspiracy fantasists whose theories are dependent on the postulation of secret and unseen societies of Illuminati pulling the strings behind the scenes: For unlike these secret societies of grand conspiracy theorism the fascists were hardly a secret - far from it; their existence and the overtly brutal means by which they controlled  society were all too evident!

The human mind is an highly imaginative cognitive machine; it has to be to "read between the lines" of direct experience and interpolate meanings in order to build up a picture of the complex reality behind the ostensible. It does this by joining the observable data dots into theoretical narratives. But the epistemic challenge is that it is not always possible, especially when it comes to social reality, to formally and rigorously construct one's theories in a systematic scientific way. When it comes to social reality the human work-a-day epistemic is necessarily a very seat-of-the-pants affair. There is little choice for it to be otherwise because an uncontrolled stream of social data flies by daily at a rate of knots, quickly becoming history and leaving nothing but conclusions drawn on the hoof, largely unconsciously. But where the real problem lies is less in a necessarily flaky epistemic but in the unconsciousness of the precarious foundation on which this creative process rests. This is especially so when allied to a human need to act with conviction; in fact sometimes with utter confidence and decisiveness on its otherwise flaky world view. The heuristic behind this behavior may be that bad conclusions are more profitable than no conclusions at all. Perhaps it's a bit like playing a lottery: If you put an investment into a long shot there is a chance you will get some big wins; but then who can calculate the bottom line which is the balance of costs and benefits?

The grand conspiracy world view envisages a society which behind the scenes is highly organised and centrally controlled (albeit in a very malign and manipulative way) thus effectively positing a potentially knowable social world. For the grand conspiracy theorist very little of importance happens in society which is haphazard, random or a product of internal chaos. The grand conspiracy theorist believes that grandiose and purposely contrived Machiavellian themes run throughout society and these themes largely explain its ostensible features.  Little or no cognizance is taken of the chaotic wild card effects of human nature with its curious blend of compassion, creativity and the conflicts between ego and superego;. that is, between the demands of the self and the need to be a good citizen. The idea that the myriad decisions made by a myriad human beings with no one group in full control is not an idea conspiracy theorists feel secure with. These theorists don't like wild cards. (See the Kennedy assassination)

When self trumps citizenship the old fashioned word for it is "sin", the word with the "I" in the middle. "Sin", by definition, limits horizons to self and the consequent decentralizing effect of sin tends to break down and disorganize. The Biblical vision of human society's enemy emerging from the seething chaos of the deep as a serpent taps into to the archetype of the chaos monster; an apt metaphor for the effects of human and satanic sin and the resultant Chaoskampf. In contrast the conspiracy theorist's secret societies have to be highly moral between members of their class and epistemically unified in order to follow the unity of purpose required if their class is to stay secret and stay in power. I don't believe human beings are either moral enough nor epistemically empowered enough to maintain full and amicable agreement. Social life is simply far too sinful and chaotic for that. Highly organised pan-global secret conspiracies would entail the use of many cooperating operatives. This is an entirely unrealistic expectation, an  expectation the conspiracy theorist is unwilling to give up because their world view personalizes the struggle against social corruption, providing an identifiable enemy against which the theorist can fight, thus gaining the glory and self respect of being a heroic protagonists in an important struggle. In comparison the Chaoskampf resulting of the natural state of human affairs, namely the bulk effects of ignorance, stupidity, pride, sleaze, and corruption is far too impersonal, mundane and prosaic for conspiracy theorists;  Chaoskampf is the struggle against drowning in a sea of meaninglessness, an apparently much less heroic struggle. The struggle against shady well organised characters in government is a far more romantic an idea than the Chaoskampf resulting of the disorganizing effects of our own nature. Heroes need to fight against super-villians, not common-or-garden sleaze and corruption!

The response would probably be: 
"You're pay-rolled by the Illuminati". 
In my time I have come across several people with some kind of paranoid personality disorder and have become familiar with their fertile imaginations which populate the world with conniving demons as they stand, unimpeachable heroes, against the baroque plots against them. I see something  similar among the conspiracy theorists. I must also mention the christian fundamentalists who are fertile ground for the prototypical conspiracy theorism such as we see in Donald Trump. Their state of mind allows them to readily accuse detractors of being engaged in heinous sins and machinations against them and God.

Finally a confession. I have laid it on thick against the conspiracy theorist's world view. And yet I find myself in some ways having to engage in a similar epistemic activity -  namely, that of trying to make sense of the world of experience by building some kind of coherent narrative which fits it all together into a single package. The only alternative to the hubris of this rather ambitious project is to either go down the route of scientific minimalism - that is, to confine one's attention to the relatively uniform and less erratic objects like springs and precipitates, objects amenable to formal and systematic methods -  or to throw one's hands up and become a postmodern nihilist. But if one wants to have a chance of progressing further than the relatively simple non-erratic objects of institutional science  one is left with little choice but to fly in the face of epistemic difficulties and go for it; you never know, there might be big winnings. I'm attempting to synthesize a comprehensive world view based on Christian fundamentals, but without falling into the errors of either positing a highly ordered covert malign political organisation or giving any credence to the prejudices and epistemic arrogance of Christian fundamentalism, a fundamentalism which thinks that scripture short cuts epistemic difficulties. These pitfalls are prevented if one is aware of the human precariousness of one's scriptural interpretations. God or no God we work out our salvation with fear trembling as we rely on the informalities of anecdotal history and personal testimony in place of formal and systematic testing.

* The mystical world of Heinrich Himmler
Mystical symbolism and a mysterious ritual space at Himmler's Wewelsburg castle

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